The Indigenous warrior taking on Brazil’s president


Brazil’s 300 Indigenous tribes have survived conquest, small pox, enslavement and assimilation. But will they, and will the Amazon, survive the Bolsonaro presidency?

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In Brazil, supporters call him, ‘The Myth’.

On Jan 1 2019, Jair Bolsonaro became President of the world’s eighth largest economy.

Home to some of the  world’s deadliest cities, Bolsonaro's promise of jailing corrupt politicians and relaxing gun laws help sweep him to power with 55 per cent of the vote.

In his ascent to power Jair Bolsonaro joined Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a growing number of populist and machismo leaders currently in charge across the globe.

But it’s US President Donald Trump, who the right wing populist is most often compared to. Like Trump, Bolsonaro, is addicted to Twitter and railing against minorities and political correctness. In fact, the Brazilian media have dubbed him the ‘Trump of the Tropics’.

However it’s Bolsonaro’s attitude to Brazil’s Indigenous tribes and land rights that could have the most devastating long term global impact.

Bolsonaro says Brazil’s Indigenous people are treated like ‘animals in a zoo’ and argues riches from Brazil’s land should be shared by all.

It’s a vision shared by many Brazilians, but could spell disaster for the world’s greatest rainforest and Brazil’s 300 Indigenous tribes.

In the local press, Bolsonaro has been consistent and strident about his views towards indigenous land rights.

“There is no Indigenous territory where there are no minerals,” he told Campo Grande News in 2015. “Gold, tin and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I'm not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians.”

Bolsonaro has been true to his word. His first move in office was to transfer responsibility for land rights from the Indigenous agency to his pro development agricultural ministry.

The Munduruku are in conflict with illegal loggers and developers as the fight for the Amazon intensifies.

Alessandra Korap is the female leader of the Amazon’s Munduruku tribe and a law student. She warns Bolsonaro’s election has emboldened many and indigenous tribes are now facing the triple threat of dams, mining and logging on their land.

“The new president chose people who favour deforestation, in favour of agribusiness, in favour of evangelism,” she tells Dateline.

“We don’t even know how to explain it, because all of those who are now in power are against Indigenous people.

“The president himself said, during his campaign, that he wanted the mining to be allowed, to have mining on indigenous land. With this new government, deforestation has got worse.”

The effects of that destruction are likely to reverberate beyond Brazil.

Ten per cent of the world’s plants and animals are found in the Amazon, which holds 150 billion tons of stored carbon. The Amazon is often called 'the lungs of the world' – responsible for 20 per cent of the air we breathe.

Although Indigenous Brazilians make up less than one per cent of the population, they control 13 per cent of the land and they play a vital role as guardians of the world’s largest rainforest.

Alessandra says attacks on their land by illegal loggers have already increased dramatically in the few months since Bolsonaro became president. Indigenous leaders across Brazil are preparing themselves for a long fight.

“Indigenous people have resources on our land. We're not going to eat money. We need to be fed. We need to plant. We need to drink. It's not money. We have an old Indigenous saying that when there is not one drop of water left, nor a tree left standing, what are they going to eat? How are they going to survive?

“I, Alessandra, as a Munduruku warrior, I ask the whole planet to keep an eye, to put pressure on the government to demarcate our land. Because our land is this one. Our life is here. Our life is in there, in the river.

“So I ask the world to stop buying soy, stop buying beef, to put pressure on the government to demarcate our land.”